Local museum uses Minecraft to appeal to teens

By Austin Linfante

When you think about museums, you probably think about a place filled with old, sealed-off artifacts and paintings and nothing technologically advanced. If that’s the case, the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery is something different: it is incorporating the online RPG Minecraft into the museum.

The museum, commonly known as OVMoD, began a “contest” during the first week of October for teenagers and tweens to build a castle in the game that would then be displayed in the museum with the other submissions as part of the museum’s The Amazing Castle exhibit.

“The Minecraft contest has been a fun collaboration with faculty and staff from the Physics, Education and IT Departments to offer a way to bring high-tech platforms into the museum,” said Christie Truly, a board member on OVMoD. “Minecraft seemed to be a good fit and interesting to older kids in the museum.  The castles that have been designed by kids at home and submitted are really striking.”

The idea of a “contest” came from Dr. Mark Lucas from the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Dr. Seann Dikkers from the Patton College of Education after the two held a summer workshop with teenagers.

“We had a 3-week Arduino Microcontroller workshop and a Minecraft workshop,” Lucas said. “Many of the structures built in Minecraft easily take on a castle-like look. When we found the Museum of Discovery was sponsoring a castle exhibit, we thought it would be fun to set up this ‘contest.’”

The Amazing Castle event at OVMoD is an ongoing exhibit at the museum that uses many historical as well as fantasy elements to simulate a castle village within the museum.

Truly said The Amazing Castle is a 1500 square foot travelling exhibit created by the Minnesota Children’s Museum and sponsored locally by the Athens Foundation and the O’Nail Hartman Insurance Agency. “The exhibit was designed to strengthen awareness of the interconnectedness of individuals in a community,” she said. “As guests explore The Amazing Castle and its themed areas (including the Great Hall; the Carpenter’s, Tailor’s and Blacksmith’s Shops; the Kitchen Garden, The Dragon Tower, etc.), they are introduced to seven storybook characters that are part of the castle community.  Each area has costumes, interactive games and puzzles.  There are opportunities to stretch the imagination and, also, to consider social studies and economics.”

So far, the exhibit has had positive feedback from the Athens community, strengthened by the Minecraft element.

“When I visited the other weekend, the kids were really enjoying it,” Lucas said.

There is not a deadline to the event, so teenagers and tweens can apply until December 14.  Three types of Minecraft castles are admitted to the contest: “Archived” castles that players have already built, “Old School” castles that are made in Classic mode with monsters and blocks that can only be earned and “Creative Mode” castles that are made in Creative Mode with unlimited blocks available.

“We hope to have the submissions televised on a loop in the museum on Saturdays,” said Truly. “There’s no deadline, so everyone has plenty of time to participate.”

Although Lucas is not a part of OVMoD itself, his involvement through several presentations has led some from the museum to consider using more technology in their exhibits.

“I know that they are quite intrigued by some of the modern technology, like Arduino microcontrollers and Raspberry Pis,” Lucas said. “These tools may make the development of their own exhibits more feasible in the future. As for video games, I presume it all depends on how the game dovetails with the theme.”

For those who want to see the rare sighting of a video game in a museum, OVMoD is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. It is located in the Market on State mall (the Athens Farmers Market is held in the mall’s parking lot).



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